Survival in the Shadows: Seven Jews Hidden in Hitler's Berlinby Barbara Lovenheim
In January 1943, unable to flee Germany, the four members of the Arndt family went underground to avoid deportation to Auschwitz. Ellen Lewinsky and her mother, Charlotte, joined them; a year later, Bruno Gumpel arrived./b>
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The remarkable true story of two German Jewish families that survived against all odds while hiding in the heart of the Nazi capital
In January 1943, unable to flee Germany, the four members of the Arndt family went underground to avoid deportation to Auschwitz. Ellen Lewinsky and her mother, Charlotte, joined them; a year later, Bruno Gumpel arrived. Hiding in a small factory near Hitler’s bunker, without identification cards or food-ration stamps, they were dependent on German strangers for survival.
When Russian soldiers finally rescued the group in April 1945, the families were near death from starvation. But their will to live triumphed and two months later, four of the survivors—Erich Arndt and Ellen Lewinsky, and Ruth Arndt and Bruno Gumpel—reunited in a double wedding ceremony.
Survival in the Shadows chronicles the previously untold story of the largest group of German Jews to have survived hiding in Berlin through the final and most deadly years of the Holocaust.
Relayed to Barbara Lovenheim by three survivors from the group, the riveting story is a touching portrayal of the bravery of these seven Jews, and a heartfelt acknowledgment of the fortitude and humanity of the compassionate Germans who kept them alive.
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Survival in the Shadows
Seven Jews Hidden in Hitler's Berlin
By Barbara Lovenheim
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2002 Barbara Lovenheim
All rights reserved.
INTO THE SHADOWS
The most powerful antipode to the Aryan is the Jew ... He is and remains the typical parasite, a sponger who, like a malign bacillus, spreads more and more as long as he will find some favorable feeding ground. And the consequences of his existence, too, resemble those of the parasite: where he appears, the host nation will sooner or later die. – Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, 1925
A cold December wind swept through Kreuzberg, a largely working-class district of Berlin, rattling windowpanes and swirling snow and debris through the streets. Laborers returning home wrapped their scarves tightly around their faces and dug their hands deep into their pockets, keeping their heads down as they hurried along. It was December 1942, and to average Germans – those who were counting on Hitler winning the war – the reports from the eastern front were disturbing. The Sixth Army of General Friedrich Paulus was cut off in Stalingrad, surrounded on all sides by Soviet troops. A recent effort to break through and relieve the worn-out garrison had failed, leaving the Germans without adequate food or medicine or ammunition to take on either the fierce Red Army or the brutal Russian winter. General Kurt Zeitzler, the chief of the Army General Staff, knew that the Germans were doomed unless Hitler authorized a retreat. But when he implored him to yield, the Führer lost his temper. He would sacrifice his troops rather than give in. His embattled soldiers would defend the Volga to their death. Germany would never surrender.
Nor was this the first major upset. Early in November Field Marshall Erwin Rommel – the celebrated Desert Fox of the German army – had been routed by the Eighth Army of British General Sir Bernard Law Montgomery. A week later British and American troops led by General Dwight D. Eisenhower had landed on the beaches of Morocco and Algeria to launch Operation Torch, a tactic designed to threaten German forces in Tunisia with a giant pincer movement and thus secure the Mediterranean.
It was clear to all but the most naïve Germans that a major – perhaps decisive – defeat was in the making in Stalingrad.
For the 33,000 Jews trapped in Berlin at this time, reports of the Soviet advances in Stalingrad ignited the first real flicker of hope that the Nazis might be defeated before they could exterminate the entire Jewish population. Few Jews who had survived this far into the war believed they faced anything but death: rumors had seeped into the community that the Nazis planned to annihilate all the Jews in Europe. Terrifying reports were circulating daily that seemed to verify this: stories of mass murders in the concentration camps; of Russian Jews being stripped, shot in the back and dumped in large burial pits piled with other dead Jews; of families torn asunder on arrival at the camps; of children perishing in mysterious ways.
And now those Jews who were working twelve hours a day in armaments factories knew that their time was running out. At Siemens the Jewish rumor mill known as the Mundfunk ("mouth radio" – a play on Rundfunk, the German word for radio) was carrying warnings that a massive factory raid was being planned, a raid that would purge all German factories of their Jewish workers and deport them to camps. Paul Josef Goebbels, Hitler's Minister of Propaganda, was probably the initiator. He had vowed publicly to make Berlin judenrein (free of Jews) and he would stop at nothing to carry out this threat.
Erich Joachim Arndt, the slim nineteen-year-old son of a respected Jewish doctor and First World War veteran, knew that he and his family and friends would be swept up in the coming raid. Since 1940 Erich had been working as a slave laborer at Siemens-Schuckert-Bohrwerk, a huge armaments factory in Spandau, a north-western suburb of Berlin, that employed about five thousand Jews during the course of the war. There he had watched helplessly as his co-workers were beaten and brutalized. Each day brought more reports of friends and relatives who had been rounded up and shipped to the camps, of arbitrary raids on Judenhäuser and day-care centers, of covered vans rumbling ominously through city streets.
Emigration from Germany was now illegal for Jews – the borders had been shut in October 1941. Escape to neighboring countries was extremely difficult and dangerous. Erich could no longer count on his youth, physical health and employment skills to protect him. Nor would Dr. Arndt's Iron Cross save the family. Every Jew, rich or poor, able-bodied or frail, male or female, was vulnerable.
Erich saw one solution: he and his family had to go into hiding to survive. Every day coworkers from Siemens were disappearing. The factory Mundfunk reported that some of these Jews were being sheltered by non-Jewish friends. Some had taken on Aryan identities while working quietly in nondescript jobs. Others were hiding in sheds, back rooms and ditches.
When Erich discussed his idea with his older sister, Ruth, and his girlfriend, Ellen Lewinsky, they agreed that it was a good plan. Ruth and Ellen were also employed as slave laborers in munitions factories, and they had each witnessed the brutality of the Nazi Vorarbeiter (supervisors). All three young people had had close calls, and on several occasions the Arndts had hidden overnight in the living-rooms of their Lutheran friends Anni and Max Gehre and Martha Maske, alerted by rumors that the Gestapo would sweep through Kreuzberg that evening, ferreting out any Jews they could find and herding them into vans.
Ellen had already lost many close relatives – her father, David Lewinsky, her beloved great-aunt, Johanna Kroner, with whom Ellen and her mother had been living in Berlin, her cousin Ulla and Ulla's mother, Selma, and her cousin, Meta and Meta's parents. Ruth and Erich had lost their aunt Paula and many classmates and friends.
Like Erich, Ellen and Ruth had been counting on their value as slave laborers to keep them alive. But with the news of an impending purge they realized that the factories were no longer refuges from deportation. Now it was only a matter of time before they, too, would be sent to a labor camp in Poland where, they feared, they would be overworked and starved until they dropped dead. Their youth, health and ability to work would not keep them alive for long. They agreed wholeheartedly with Erich that they had one option: to stay alive they had to go underground.
Now Erich had to persuade his father, a task he knew would not be easy.
Arthur Arndt, a handsome bespectacled man with a penchant for cigars, had grown up proud to be German. As far back as anyone could remember his family had prospered in Germany; one of his great-uncles had been a Royal Escort for Frederick the Great. Arthur was the only surviving son of an Orthodox Jewish glazier from Kolberg, a small but well-known seaside resort on the Baltic. In 1913 Arthur had entered the prestigious Friedrich Wilhelms Universität in Berlin to study medicine. But after the First World War broke out the following year he interrupted his studies to serve for his country as a medic in the army. When the war ended on November 11, 1918, he volunteered to serve in a field hospital in France for a year, caring for wounded soldiers.
On Arthur's return to Berlin the German government awarded him an Iron Cross for his outstanding war performance. A year later he was accepted as an intern at the world-renowned Charité Hospital. There he specialized in obstetrics and gynecology. In 1921 he married the daughter of a kosher butcher, Lina Arnoldi, whom he met while attending the university. Lina, red-haired and petite – she was less than five feet tall – was energetic and spirited, with a wicked sense of humor that contrasted with Arthur's straightforward manner. He was attracted by her warmth and her good nature, while she admired her husband's idealism and shared his passion to serve their country. They were exactly the kind of high-minded, industrious people that were needed in Germany after the devastation of the First World War.
The Arndts settled in Kreuzberg, a district in south-east Berlin populated by a mixture of working-class laborers and middle-class entrepreneurs, many of whom ran small and medium-sized firms in the area. Of the more than 340,000 Germans who lived in Kreuzberg in 1933, only 6,000 – less than 2 per cent – were Jews. While most residents (both Jews and Gentiles) were moderate Social Democrats, the area around the Görlitzer train station at the intersection of Skalitzer Strasse and Oranienstrasse became a hub for Communist activity. Eventually it became a center for working-class opposition to Hitler.
Arthur Arndt was one of the few doctors in the area. He soon attracted a large clientele of both Jewish and non-Jewish patients, developing a reputation as a thorough and compassionate physician who would tend to the needy even if they did not have enough money to pay his fees. On May 16, 1922, Lina bore him a daughter, Ruth Anni Thea. A year and a half later, on November 30, 1923, the Arndts had a son, Erich Joachim.
Soon Dr. Arndt was doing so well that he was able to afford a nanny, a non-Jewish woman named Anni Schultz ("Tata"), to help Lina. In 1925 he bought a motor car – a 1922 Piccard, a Swiss-made open touring car – and he even hired a chauffeur to take him on his rounds, becoming one of the few men in the neighborhood with his own motorized vehicle.
In 1928 the family moved into a large, seven-room apartment on Skalitzer Strasse, a big, busy thoroughfare dominated by an elevated railway and two trams and crowded during the daytime with delivery boys, shoppers and garment workers carrying newly made coats and suits on their backs.
Lina and Arthur were proud of their Jewish heritage, but, like so many other young German Jews raised in Orthodox homes, they were progressive about their religion. While they observed the major Jewish holidays and planned to introduce their children to the history and language of the ancient Hebrews, they did not keep a strictly kosher home nor did they observe Jewish rituals to the letter. They would send their children to secular schools and cultivate friendships with their non-Jewish neighbors.
Eventually Arthur and Lina decided to join a temple; the closest one was a handsome Orthodox synagogue on Kottbusser Ufer, a quiet street along the Landwehrkanal lined with magnificent chestnut trees. While most of the 2,000 congregants were Orthodox Jews, many were like the Arndts – liberal Jews who would, in today's world, be similar to Conservative or Reform Jews. When Erich turned thirteen in 1936 he had his bar mitzvah in the sanctuary. Next door to the main building was a small annex referred to casually as "the little temple," where youth services were held.
Despite the increasing anti-Semitic regulations which by then had stripped Jews of many of their rights – including the right to marry non-Jews, the right to work as civil servants and the right to hire female domestic workers under the age of forty-five – the Arndts were well liked and respected by their Gentile neighbors. Dr. Arndt's patients continued to seek his services. Many of them hoped that Hitler would soon be overthrown, that the German people would not tolerate such a despot for long.
Then at the end of July 1938 Dr. Arndt received a letter from the government informing him that as of September 30 Jewish doctors would be taken off the Medical Register and could no longer call themselves physicians. Thereafter all Jewish doctors would be known as Krankenbehandler (healers for the Jewish infirm) and could not treat Aryan patients. A few weeks later, on August 15, Erich received a letter dismissing him from the Leibnitz Gymnasium on Mariannenplatz, a top school where he had distinguished himself as an outstanding student and athlete. He went to work as a bicycle delivery boy.
After these blows Dr. Arndt began aggressively making plans to emigrate. He managed to locate a distant cousin in the U.S. – the son of his father's second cousin – and wrote to him requesting four affidavits, which would enable the family to apply for exit visas to America. Early in the autumn of 1938 Dr. Arndt received the affidavits and Lina called her sisters to relay the good news. A few days later Dr. Arndt received an urgent call from his 26-year-old nephew, Heinz Paul, the son of Lina's oldest sister. Someone had reported to the Gestapo that Heinz was having an affair with an Aryan woman. Heinz was sent to Sachsenhausen, a concentration camp, for violating the law. He was given forty-eight hours to obtain a visa and leave Germany, otherwise he would be interned there for good.
Heinz appealed to Uncle Arthur. Could he have one of the affidavits? Dr. Arndt felt that he had little choice: he could always get another affidavit, he assumed, and Heinz's life was in danger. He could not commit his nephew to a life of internment when he had the power to save him. So he gave the affidavit to Heinz, who promptly left Germany.
The next month, in the middle of the night of November 9, Nazi Brownshirts swept through Germany. They smashed and looted more than 7,000 Jewish-owned businesses and shops, set fire to more than 1,000 synagogues, including the one where Erich had had his bar mitzvah, and rounded up 30,000 Jewish men, many of them prominent citizens, and sent them to concentration camps.
The massive pogrom raised Nazi discrimination against the Jews to a new and terrifying level. From now on the Nazis would use force and brutality to enforce their policies. Dr. Arndt knew he had no time to waste. He wrote to his cousin requesting another affidavit. Throughout the cold winter he stood in long queues at consulates, trying to obtain an appointment with an official who could give him exit papers. He also appealed to everyone he knew for help. He pleaded with the Jewish official in charge of emigration. All to no avail.
In the months following the November pogrom, which came to be known as Kristallnacht, panic and rage swept through the Jewish community as everyone clamored to leave the country. There were at least 1,000 applicants for every available visa; even countries opposed to Hitler's terrible policies now curtailed their quotas, arguing that they could not accommodate more German Jewish refugees. But Dr. Arndt kept looking for ways to leave, and he enrolled in a workshop to study fumigation so that he would be able to support the family by working as an exterminator when they emigrated if he wasn't allowed to practice as a doctor. He also enrolled Erich as an apprentice at a special workshop on Holzmarktstrasse run by the Jewish Council of Berlin. There Erich learned lock-smithing, welding and how to operate metal-working machines.
As countries began curtailing the flow of German refugees, bribery and connections became the only way to obtain the few available visas. Even people with these could not always book passage on ships, all of which were now overloaded. Dr. Arndt was well off, but he was not wealthy. He had many friends, but he did not have the right connections.
Early in April 1938, when it seemed as though things could not get any worse for the Jews, Dr. Arndt received notification that he had to move to a more "suitable" apartment. Ruth watched heartbroken as her father sold most of his medical equipment and handsome furniture. Then the family moved into a tiny and shabby two-room apartment at Oranienstrasse 206 – into a five-story building in a drab commercial street that had been designated by the authorities as a Judenhaus.
The apartment was cramped and dismal, a far cry from the Arndts' previous home. A short, narrow hallway, where Erich kept his two bikes, led from the door to the kitchen. Next to that was a room with a lavatory. Bathing was done from a basin in the kitchen. The large room that tripled as a living-room, dining area and bedroom for Dr. Arndt and Lina opened off the left side of the hallway. It was stuffed with furniture, some of it salvaged from their former home. Dr. Arndt slept on a single bed on one side of the room, and Lina slept on a chaise-longue that stood against the other wall. A plain rectangular wooden table with half-a-dozen straight chairs around it occupied the middle of the room. There Dr. Arndt would sometimes sit after dinner, smoking a cigar.
Excerpted from Survival in the Shadows by Barbara Lovenheim. Copyright © 2002 Barbara Lovenheim. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Meet the Author
Barbara Lovenheim is a journalist, an author, and the founding editor of NYCitywoman.com. She has written articles and cover stories for the New York Times, the International Herald Tribune, the Wall Street Journal, New York magazine, and other publications, often interviewing high-level personalities including Hillary Clinton, Katharine Hepburn, and Arianna Huffington. Lovenheim, who holds a PhD in English literature, taught at the City University of New York before making her way as a writer. Survival in the Shadows is her third book.
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This is the true story of a family of Jews who survived by going into hiding in Berlin during Hitler's reign. It tells of many ordinary Germans who assisted the family by hiding family members, assisting them with food helping them find jobs. The author also makes clear that the Arndt family managed to survive by their own wits and resourcefulness. There are many light moments, which is surprising and welcome given the grim times in which they lived. Highly recommended. At first I did have trouble keeping the people and their relationships straight. Then, at the end of the book when I didn't need it anymore, was a helpful list of who was who! It's on page 209, followed by photos of many people in the book.
I would like it to have more than three pages .